No, playing video games is NOT the path to becoming a programmer

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg credits video games with turning him into a programmer. But he knows the reality is more complicated.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg playing video games made me a programmer
flickr/Andrew Feinberg

Earlier this month, Facebook founder, CEO, and hacker icon Mark Zuckerberg told a company town hall meeting that "I definitely would not have gotten into programming if I hadn't played games as a kid."

He also said, "I hear a lot that parents are concerned about their kids playing games, and there are valid concerns and I think that there's an important debate to be had around that. But I do think that if you're a parent and you don't let your children use technology, but also want them... to be open to [a career in programming], then I actually think giving people the opportunity to play around with different stuff is one of the best things you can do..."

Predictably, the press picked up on his statements, with multiple outlets trumpeting Zuck's support for playing games.

Making, not playing

But if you watch the entire video of Zuckerberg's remarks (or, to be fair, read past the headlines on most of the stories), that interpretation overlooks a critical distinction.

While Zuck definitely made the connection between playing games and programming, most of his discussion centered around the importance of making games, not just playing them:

"But what I really did a lot when I was a kid was I made a lot of games for myself. They were terrible, but this was how I got into programming. I got a computer when I was 10 or 11 and was playing games and wanted to make them better, so I just started kind of messing around and designing some stuff myself. The games were terrible by any objective measure of a game, but there's some gratification that you get when it's your game, and when you're playing something that you designed."

That's a huge difference, and it actually makes a lot of sense. Making games really is programming, so it's no surprise that people who make games often go on to careers as software developers, whether they're making games or apps or something else.

But just playing games? To many programmers, that is merely a colossal waste of time… time that could be spent developing your programming skills. When companies like Facebook look to hire developers, I don't think they care how good you are at Candy Crush, Grand Theft Auto, or Call of Duty.

Zuck's full comments make it clear that he knows the difference. But, sadly, that one line about playing games leading to programming careers could end up giving a lot of people the wrong idea.

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